An untidy whodunit wrapped around an impassioned denunciation of polygamy—an allegedly extinct lifestyle that, Webb’s...

DESERT WIVES

Whenever a man is murdered, the most likely suspect is always his wife. But Solomon Royal, the polygamous Prophet of Purity, a compound on the border of Arizona and Utah, leaves behind so many widows—from his eldest wife, nonpareil cook Sister Ermaline, to Valkyrie Sister Martha and pregnant Sister Jean—that Utah authorities decide to simplify matters, bypassing them all and arresting Esther Corbett, the mother of Solomon’s latest intended, 13-year-old Rebecca Corbett, whose estranged father had swapped her to the Prophet for two 16-year-olds to call his own before Flagstaff private eye Lena Jones (Desert Noir, not reviewed) helped her to escape. Turning a blind eye to Rebecca’s and Lena’s accusations of polygamy, Arizona authorities prepare to extradite Esther to the tender mercies of a Utah court. The only way to save her, Lena decides, is to get the goods on the real killer, and the only way to gather evidence in such a closed community as Purity is to infiltrate it as retired contractor Saul Berkhauser’s latest wife. The only problem is that Saul’s position in Purity is none too secure, plus fiery Lena, still seared by memories of her own mother’s attempt to kill her, is the world’s least convincing submissive wife: she can’t keep her mouth shut (or, sometimes, keep her fists to herself) long enough to listen to an entire potentially incriminating conversation.

An untidy whodunit wrapped around an impassioned denunciation of polygamy—an allegedly extinct lifestyle that, Webb’s closing note argues, continues to flourish, sowing the seeds of many a real-life disaster.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-59058-030-3

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

FLESH AND BLOOD

Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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